As expected, Warner Music Nashville’s chairman-CEO John Esposito — widely known in Music City as just “Espo” — will move to an emeritus role in 2023 in a long-talked-about succession plan that will see his two key lieutenants moving into more elevated roles, a source close to the situation confirms to Variety. The move is expected to be formally announced within the next few weeks.
The label’s two current executive vice presidents, Ben Kline and Cris Lacy, are expected to pair up and together assume Esposito’s chairman-CEO roles at the label, as has been expected since they were promoted to their current posts in 2019. Billboard reported the news early Tuesday; a rep for Warner declined comment.
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The move comes as no surprise, since Esposito has long said that he foresaw Kline and Lacy succeeding him. Having previously said he could never see retiring altogether, Esposito is expected to stay on in an oversight role.
Lacy and Kline both received promotions in 2019, which prompted public discussion by Esposito of them eventually being bound for even bigger things. Lacy, who joined WMN in 2005, was then elevated to EVP A&R, although her real duties are understood to expand well beyond the A&R realm,. Even at the time that new title was announced, she was described in a company statement as “overseeing the label’s day-to-day operations.”
Kline, who joined the label in 2014, was upped five years later to a newly created position, EVP/general manager, where he was positioned to oversee four departments — radio and streaming (with WMN garnering attention for putting those under the same umbrella), artist development, touring and international.
Esposito came to the company in 2009 when Warner Music Nashville was formally created as a label group. After having been brought on as president-CEO, he was bumped up to chairman-CEO in 2016.
At Warner Nashville, which through much of the 2000s was seen as the underdog among country’s major labels, Esposito has been atop a major turnaround and has most famously overseen Blake Shelton’s transition from one of many male stars in the format to a superstar whose singles are almost guaranteed to go No. 1 at radio. He’s also had Dan + Shay become an arena act, helped establish Gabby Barrett as a reliable star in the genre, boosted Ashley McBryde as one of country’s primary cred acts, and signed Kenny Chesney away from Sony Nashville four years ago.
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